January 28, 2014

Edited by David Sanders

Filed under: Poetry News in Review |

Specimen Days

1582 – John Barclay, Scottish satirist/poet (Euphormio's Satyricon), id born.
1719 – Johann Elias Schlegel, German critic and poet (d. 1749), is born.
1838 – Aleksandr I Polezjajev, Russian poet (Sasjka), dies at 33 [NS].
1853 – Jose Martí y Perez, Cuba, poet/essayist/politician, is born.
1891 – Camille Melloy, [Paepe], Belgian poet (Parfum des Buis), is born.
1918 – John McCrae, Canadian poet/physician, dies.
1935 – Manuel dos Santos Lima, Angolian revolutionary/poet (Pele do Diabo), is born.
1939 – William Butler Yeats, Irish poet (Nobel), dies in France at 73.
1979 – Eileen Shanahan, Irish Poet (b. 1901), is born.
1996 – Joseph Brodsky, poet, dies at 55.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

—from "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae (1872–1918)

In Flanders fields the poppies blow/Between the crosses, row on row -John McCrae

World Poetry

South Korean Poet Ko Un Wins Golden Wreath Award

Renowned South Korean poet Ko Un has been picked as the winner of this year's Golden Wreath, one of the world's most authoritative awards for poets, a local publisher said Tuesday.Ko will receive the highest award given by Struga Poetry Evenings, an international poetry festival that has been held annually for half a century, since 1962, in the town of Struga, Macedonia, for his overall poetry work, Changbi Publishers said. This year's event is set to open in August. Read more at Yonhap News.

Crisp Firm Tyrrells in Picture Row after Unwittingly Using Photograph of Renowned Welsh Poet to Promote Competition

Gourmet crisp firm Tyrrells has been criticised for unwittingly using a photograph of renowned Welsh poet R.S. Thomas to promote a tongue-in-cheek competition. The image of Thomas, who died in 2000, appears on packets of sweet chilli and red pepper crisps next to the words ‘win a fleeting look of contempt or £25,000’. But academic Jeremy Noel-Tod said he was angry that Thomas had been used to sell ‘overpriced fried potatoes’. Read more at theDaily Mail. 

Renowned South Korean poet Ko Un has been picked as the winner of this year’s Golden Wreath.

Recent Reviews

The Best British Poetry 2013

by Dai George

In 2011 Roddy Lumsden spearheaded the launch of Best British Poetry (BBP), an annual series that now goes head-to-head with the prestigious Forward Book of Poetry to sift through the great and the good of British verse across a single year. Whether or not BBP has split the vote or muddied the waters for a casual poetry-reading public, it would be hard to argue it fails to offer a difference in approach. Read more at the Boston Review.

A Feminist Ontology of Ooziness: On Kim Hyesoon

By Deborah Schwartz

Kim Hyesoon’s 132-page translated collection All the Garbage of the World, Unite! contains a poetry that is not built on metaphysical or metaphoric associations. An object, image, or process does not have to carry the weight of transmigration to or from another. No coherent, unified meaning about the nature of spirit and its existence in our physical bodies and our conquered and conquering nation-bodies are revealed in this collection (though for an attentive reading of how spirit inundates Kim’s reified landscapes see Tim VanDyke’s “This is the Ek-Static City: Thoughts on Kim Hyesoon’s Poetry and Poetics” in HTMLGIANT). Read more at the Critical Flame.

Trances of the Blast

by B. K. Fischer
Mary Ruefle speaks plain American, which cats and dogs can read. The quip is Marianne Moore's, from her 1920 poem "England," and it speaks to the notion that a quintessentially American poetry is demotic, unpretentious, and wry, impossibly transparent, and wrought of a simplicity so clear it becomes a wild tongue. Ruefle's poetry traffics in this enigma: pedestrian detail ("Walt Whitman loves me") crosses paths with the dream of unmediated utterances, even as it collides with the obtuse and opaque. Her most recent collection of poems, Trances of the Blast, reads as a compendium of plain American idioms, each wrenched out of context to show its strangeness. Read more at the Boston Review.

The Evolution of Erica Dawson

by Russell Willoughby

Erica Dawson writes in assertive, sometimes defiant, declaratives. Her tone is terse and confident, though casual alliteration and staccato rhythms yield a vulnerable, youthful playfulness. The classical piano training and church choir days of Dawson’s youth are evident in the tightly coiled structure of her long, loping poems and their strict rhyme schemes, creating a pointed musicality that leaves readers rhythm-drunk. Her first collection, Big-Eyed Afraid, was published by Waywiser Press in 2007, when Dawson was twenty-seven. In Big-Eyed, poems shift easily from first to second person, though they never move into third; Dawson revels in the emboldened “I” and the righteous “you.” Read more at Oxford American.

Roddy Lumsden spearheaded the launch of Best British Poetry (BBP), an annual series.


Generationalism in British Poetry

by J.T. Welsch

It’s hard to argue with the generational anthology’s promise: “Go on,” it says, “pick me up. If it’s verse you’re after, here’s a handy sampler – a safe way to begin exploring the strangely well-hidden world of contemporary poetry, learning the names and trends that will let you feel part of that conversation.” Like a mix-tape from a wise older sibling, the editor or team of editors of a given anthology has done the hard work for you. It was a difficult choice, they confess (for the sake of those not chosen), but in the end, they clearly feel these dozen or two dozen or twelve dozen poets give readers that authoritative snapshot of poetry as it stands today. Everyone wants to know what’s what, and everyone loves a group photo. Read more at Body.

Birds of a Feather? Anecdotes, Sketches and Polish Poems in English Translation

by Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese 

‘So that’s how they understand “story” here’, Wojciech Bonowicz turned to me during the interval in the third main reading of the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival. ‘I should have explained the Polish “story” more…,’ he commented on his essay in the autumn 2013 Modern Poetry in Translation, which presents four Polish poets: Krystyna Miłobędzka, Justyna Bargielska, Marcin Świetlicki and Łukasz Jarosz. Intrepid storytellers, they embrace our linguistic shortcomings to write narratives, however minimal or fractured or incomplete. Read more at Modern Poetry in Translation.

Something More than Style

by David Biespiel

Earlier this week, while speaking to some younger poets, I became intrigued with their nascent fascination, to the point of headiness, with all things poetically elliptical, non-linear, and disjunctive. I say intrigued, but in my heart it felt more like exasperated. Listening to them, I realized that it was as if style —not form, not argument, not civic experience, not love or death or sorrow or sex or history, not life lived as life, not confronting life or yearning for knowledge of what it means to be living living in an actual, you know, geographic county that concerned them — but style and style alone was to be the subject of their art, or subjectlessness. Read more at The Rumpus.

Translating a Tamil Poem

by Lakshmi Holmström

This is an almost line-by-line, literal translation of a famous poem by the poet Cheran, about a terrible event which happened in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, in 1983. Briefly, soon after 13 Singhalese soldiers were killed in an ambush by the militant group known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTEs, popularly known as the Tamil Tigers), one of the worst pogroms against the Tamils broke out in the capital where there was an almost systematic massacre of Tamil families. The violence then spread throughout the island, targeting Tamil civilians, including the tea-plantation workers. (The tea plantation workers are Tamils who came to Sri Lanka during the colonial period, to work on the tea estates: they are distinct from the Jaffna Tamils who have lived on the island since earliest times; they form a small minority amongst a predominantly Sinhala population.) Read more at Modern Poetry in Translation.

Short Days and Long Nights

by Charles Simic

An old TV set saying to itself in an empty house: “I seem to be fated, ordained, and condemned to live in the midst of things I’m never to hear the end of.” Read more at the New York Review of Books.

It’s hard to argue with the generational anthology’s promise.

Drafts & Fragments

Poetry Podcast: Tracy K. Smith Reads Kevin Young

This month, on the Poetry Podcast Tracy K. Smith, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2012 for her collection “Life on Mars,” reads “Crowning,” by Kevin Young. The poem presents childbirth from the perspective of the father, whom Smith describes as a “beholden” witness:

now that you are more born
than being, more awake
than awaited
Smith says that she is taken by the poem’s “sense of almost arrival” and by its structure, which is one long, arduous sentence.  Read more at the New Yorker.

Tracy K. Smith reads “Crowning,” by Kevin Young.

Poetry In the News

CD Based on Kooser Poetry Wins 3 Grammys

 "Winter Morning Walks," a song cycle based on the poetry of Pulitzer Prize-winner Ted Kooser, won Grammy Awards Sunday in all three categories for which it received nominations. It was jazz composer Maria Schneider's first contemporary classical CD and featured soprano Dawn Upshaw and the Australian and St. Paul Chamber Orchestras.The CD won best contemporary classical composition, best classical vocal solo (Upshaw) and best engineered classical album. Read more at the Journal Star.

Sewanee Review Announces Dana Gioia as Recipient of Aiken Taylor Award

The Sewanee Review is proud to announce that Dana Gioia is the recipient of this year’s Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry. Dana Gioia, known for his poetry, criticism and arts advocacy, holds the newly created Judge Widney Chair in Poetry and Public Culture at the University of Southern California. Read more about Gioia and the award on the Sewanee Review website

“Winter Morning Walks,”poetry of Pulitzer Prize-winner Ted Kooser, won Grammy Awards Sunday.

New Books

The Poetry of Sex by Sophie Hannah

[Hardcover] Viking, 240 pp., $17.34

The Poetry of Sex — a raucous, highly enjoyable anthology by acclaimed poet Sophie Hannah. We've been at it all summer, from the Canadian border to the edge of Mexico. . . Romance and poetry seem to go hand in hand but — implicit, explicit, nuanced or starkly frank — sex itself has long been a staple subject for poets. In fact a great deal of erotic poetry rejects the distinction. It's hard to imagine a more fruitful subject for poets than sex, in all its glorious manifestations: from desire and hope, through disappointment and confusion, to conclusion and consequence. And little has changed over the centuries, as Sophie Hannah's anthology vividly demonstrates, from Catullus pleading with Lesbos to Walt Whitman singing the body electric. From Shakespeare to Carol Ann Duffy, this book is essential reading for poetry lovers and romantics everywhere. 

The Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948-2013 edited by Glyn Maxwell

[Hardcover] Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 640 pp., $40.00

The Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948-2013 draws from every stage of the poet’s storied career. Here are examples of his very earliest work, like “In My Eighteenth Year,” published when the poet himself was still a teenager; his first widely celebrated verse, like “A Far Cry from Africa,” which speaks of violence, of loyalties divided in one’s very blood; his mature work, like “The Schooner Flight” from The Star-Apple Kingdom; and his late masterpieces, like the tender “Sixty Years After,” from the 2010 collection White Egrets. Across sixty-five years, Walcott has grappled with the themes that have defined his work as they have defined his life: the unsolvable riddle of identity; the painful legacy of colonialism on his native Caribbean island of St. Lucia; the mysteries of faith and love and the natural world; the Western canon, celebrated and problematic; the trauma of growing old, of losing friends, family, one’s own memory. 

Poetry Pamphlets 1-12 (Boxed Set)

 [Paperback] New Directions, 600 pp., $100.00

This boxed set of the first twelve collections in the New Directions Poetry Pamphlet series contains: Osama Alomar's Fullbood Arabian; H. D.'s Vale Ave; Lawrence Ferlinghetti's Blast Cries Laughter; Forrest Gander's Eiko & Koma; Oliverio Girondo's Poems to Read on a Streetcar; Susan Howe's Sorting Facts, or 19 Ways of Looking at Chris Marker; Sylvia Legris's Pneumatic Antiphonal; Bernadette Mayer's The Helens of Troy, New York; Dunya Mikhail's15 Iraqi Poets; Alejandra Pizarnik's A Musical Hell; Nathaniel Tarn's The Beautiful Contradictions; Lydia Davis & Eliot Weinberger's Two American Scenes.

Endarkenment: Selected Poems by Arkadii Dragomoshchenko

[Hardcover] Wesleyan, 178 pp., $26.95

The poet Arkadii Dragomoshchenko made his debut in underground magazines in the late Soviet period, and developed an elliptic, figural style with affinities to Moscow metarealism, although he lived in what was then Leningrad. Endarkenment brings together revisions of selected translations by Lyn Hejinian and Elena Balashova from his previous American titles, long out of print, with translations of new work carried out by Genya Turovskaya, Bela Shayevich, Jacob Edmond, and Eugene Ostashevsky. This chronological arrangement of Dragomoshchenko's writing represents the heights of his imaginative poetry and fragmentary lyricism from perestroika to the time of his death.

The Wish Book: Poems by Alex Lemon

[Paperback] Milkweed Editions, 88 pp., $16.00

In his first collection since Fancy Beasts, a book that "slice[d] straight through nerve and marrow on its way to the heart and mind of the matter" (Tracy K. Smith), Alex Lemon dazzles us again with his exuberance and candor. Whether in unrestrained descriptions of sensory overload or tender meditations on fatherhood and mortality, Lemon blurs that nebulous line between the personal and the pop-cultural. These poems are full of frenetic energy and images pleasantly, strangely colliding: jigsaws and bathtubs and kung-fu and X-rays. It's a distinct brand of edginess that readers of Lemon will once again applaud. A lean and muscular collection, The Wish Book marks a new high in this poet's unstoppable career.

The Star By My Head: Poets from Sweden translated by Malena Mörling and Jonas Ellerström 

[Paperback] Milkweed Editions, 192 pp., $20.00

From Edith Södergran to Gunnar Ekelöf to Nobel Prize-winning Tomas Tranströmer, Sweden has long been home to a rich and luminous poetic tradition, notable for refreshing openness, striking honesty, and a rare transcendence that seems to spring from a keen attention to the natural world. With poems that span from the beginnings of Modernism to present day, The Star By My Head: Eight Swedish Poetsis an essential bilingual volume that offers stark, exquisite translations by internationally acclaimed poets and translators Malena Mörling and Jonas Ellerström. Published in partnership with the Poetry Foundation, The Star By My Head is the premiere American anthology of 20th- and 21st-century Swedish poetry in English translation.

Beast in the Apartment by Tony Barnstone

[Paperback] Sheep Meadow, 96 pp., $18.95

"Tony Barnstone has no walls. He is alive moment to moment at the naked center. In his shrewd double vision, the animal self and the outside self mingle in ecstasy and grief of flesh. He is so surprising and fearless and cuts right to it, and yet so delicate and lyrical." –Ruth Stone

The Poetry of Sex — a raucous, highly enjoyable anthology by acclaimed poet Sophie Hannah.


One Year Later: Reflections On An Inaugural Poem

When Richard Blanco was tapped last year to write the inaugural poem at the ceremony for President Obama’s second term, he was more than surprised. The Latino gay poet was given three weeks to write and submit three poems. Blanco says the poem chosen for the big day, “One Day,” was not his favorite. We hear the one that was: “Mother Country.” Read more at Here and Now.

An Interview with Hank Lazer

by Marjorie Perloff

1.MGP:  Hank, in your memoir for Contemporary Authors, you give a wonderful account of a happy “normal” childhood in San Jose, and then an equally happy high school period, what with your 4.0 average and becoming valedictorian. It’s an unlikely background for a poet, and you even say that both in high school and at Stanford, you “struggled a bit with English.”  Why do you think that was the case and how did you ever discover your vocation for poetry? Read more at Talisman.

A Quick Interview with Don Share 

by Corey Zeller
You’ve become one of the most popular and applauded editors of a literary magazine in recent memory. It is really amazing! I wonder what factors you’d attribute to your success. Why do you think poets are so happy with what you’re doing at Poetry? Read more at Ampersand Review.

I Don't Know Do You: 25 Year Old Poet, Roberto Montes, Discusses His First Book

by Alissa Fleck

These days it's an uphill battle getting your writing published, particularly if you're a poet in a society that harbors a growing, yet unexpected love affair with monster erotica. Then, enter someone like Roberto Montes, a 25-year-old poet with a quirky personality, to restore our faith in contemporary literature, to show us we can still move in new directions without sacrificing the integrity of real art. Montes has wanted to be a writer ever since his mother explained to his eight-year-old self that writing is an occupation one could pursue. Perhaps alluding to the profound sense of self-questioning and the push to always move closer to a personal truth that most artists endure, Montes says he "still want[s] to be a writer." Ask any writer to define his career and no matter how much he has published, he will still waver when he calls himself a writer. Read more at theHuffington Post.

Richard Blanco was tapped last year to write the inaugural poem for President Obama.

Envoi: Editor’s Notes

Yeats had a late creative surge – including ‘one of the greatest ever death-bed utterances’ – before he died surrounded by his muses in France 75 years ago
William Butler Yeats died 75 years ago today at 2.30pm in a small upstairs room at the Hôtel Idéal Séjour in Roquebrune Cap Martin. The room had a wrought-iron balcony overlooking the Mediterranean, his final vista. Yeats’s wife, George, and his last mistress, Edith Shackleton Heald, were at his bedside. They took turns holding vigil over his body that night.
In 1937, Yeats’s Irish friends had collected money to make his old age more comfortable. At the dinner where it was presented, Yeats said it would enable him and George to winter in the south of France, where the climate would be more kind to his angina-stricken heart. “My glory was I had such friends,” he wrote in The Municipal Gallery Revisited, the poem he penned for the occasion. Read more in theIrish Times.
Joseph Brodsky, W. B. Yeats, and John McCrae share today's date. I regularly feature news and notices regarding Brodsky here, whose work I embraced a bit later than I might have, coming to it only in 1980 or so. Yeats is meaningful to me, well, because he's Yeats. McCrae is meaningful because he wrote "In Flanders Fields." which became the anthem for Armistice Day and which popularized the use of red poppies to decorate the graves of veterans. But his was also the first poem I ever committed to memory, sometime back in 1965. The lines "We are the dead. Short days ago / We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, / Loved, and were loved, and now we lie / In Flanders fields." with their variable syntax and enjambed lines  and first-person immediacy seemed to a ten-year-old boy to be as "cold and passionate as the dawn."  The story goes that after he wrote it, he threw it away, where it was retrieved by another soldier. After it was sent to a newspaper, its publication resulted in world-wide popularity. Both Charles Ives and John Philip Sousa used it as the basis for musical pieces. Although as Paul Fussell and others have noted, the third stanza ("Take up our quarrel with the foe: / To you from failing hands we throw / The torch) signals an unfortunate shift in tone from the pastoral of the first two stanzas and guaranteed that the poem would become a propaganda tool, it is nevertheless an important poem of the last one hundred years. 

William Butler Yeats died 75 years ago today.